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Safety of Old Pewter Goblets

Updated February 21, 2017

Pewter goblets can be a classy addition to your dining table, but the dangers of drinking from old pewter that contains lead is unwise. The safety of using these old goblets depends on the composition of the pewter that's been used. This composition, however, can't always be determined with accuracy.

Dangers

Pewter goblets that contain lead are not considered safe to drink from due to the danger of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is more of a danger for children than adults because lead that enters the bloodstream through ingestion is processed more thoroughly by a child's relatively high metabolism and growing cells. Also, young children are more likely to put foreign objects in their mouths, some of which may contain lead, leading to greater overall exposure to lead poisoning.

Function

Lead from old pewter can be absorbed by the liquid filling the goblet, a process called leaching over time in the body, leading to lead toxicity. Lead toxicity, also called lead poisoning, damages a person's central nervous system and reproductive system.

Composition

Not all pewter contains lead. Goblets made of pewter lacking lead are safe to drink from. Pewter made in the early 1700s and before is an alloy made of tin and lead, sometimes with other metals added, and poses a risk for lead poisoning. During the 1700s, English pewter was created as an alloy of tin, copper and antimony, eliminating the lead. Pewter goblets made in English or America in the 1800s or later are likely to be lead-free. Those made during the 1700s may or may not contain lead. Pewter items from other countries and low-quality modern pewter items may still contain lead.

Identification

Look on the bottom of the goblet for a stamp. Sometimes, old pewter is stamped by the maker, giving the location and even the date of its creation. If the stamp indicates the pewter was made in England or America after 1800, it's likely lead-free. However, unless it is stamped with the words "lead-free," it's difficult to be certain whether or not the pewter contains lead.

Pewter with a lead component tends to oxidise in a different manner from lead-free pewter, gaining a dark grey-black coating over time. The oxidation on lead-free pewter is lighter in colour. This, however, is difficult to determine without a side-by-side comparison. Also, modern pewter is sometimes chemically altered to give it a more antique look, simulating the darker oxidation of leaded pewter.

Prevention/Solution

Do not allow children under 18 years old drink from pewter goblets unless you're certain these items are lead-free. Never heat liquids in old pewter goblets or consume liquids that were hot when poured into the goblets. Heat increases the amount of lead that leaches into the drink from the pewter. If you're unsure whether your pewter contains lead, treat it as it does. Discuss your risk of overall lead exposure with your doctor before drinking from old pewter goblets.

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About the Author

Anne Hirsh has been writing and editing for over 10 years. She has hands-on experience in cooking, visual arts and theater as well as writing experience covering wellness and animal-related topics. She also has extensive research experience in marketing, small business, Web development and SEO. Hirsh has a bachelor's degree in technical theater and English and post-baccalaureate training in writing and computer software.